Isolated from the main railway network that was constructed in the 1830s, North Staffordshire’s pottery industry had to rely on canals for raw materials and to distribute its products.
During 1835, leading industrialists made plans to build a railway linking The Potteries to the national network.
These plans were forgotten when North Staffordshire was hit by a recession. Factories and mines closed. There were strikes and lockouts culminating in the Chartist Riots and the Battle of Burslem in 1842.
Two years later, pottery manufacturer William Copeland, who was a Member of Parliament, called a series of meetings to discuss building railway links to Manchester, Liverpool and Birkenhead.
The North Staffordshire Railway Company was formed to construct the Churnet Valley Line and lines running from Macclesfield and Crewe through The Potteries to Norton Bridge, Colwich and Burton-on-Trent.
The company’s first line ran from Stoke to Norton Bridge. Opened for goods traffic on April 3rd, 1848, the line started carrying passengers shortly afterwards.
Between 7.30am and 8.00am on Monday, April 17th about 80 people made their way, by carriage and horse-drawn omnibus, to the 18th-century mansion in Fenton built by Thomas Whieldon which had been turned into a temporary railway station.
They entered the building and bought tickets to travel on the first passenger train from Stoke-on-Trent to Norton Bridge which stopped at Trentham and Stone.
Just before 8.00am, a bell rang. The passengers got on the train. The engine driver blew the locomotive’s whistle. He opened the throttle. Clouds of steam engulfed the platform. Smoke poured out of the locomotive’s funnel and the train began to move slowly. It quickly gathered speed and was soon travelling at 25 miles an hour, terrifying cattle and sheep grazing in trackside pastures.
A temporary station had been built at Stone, where the train stopped for several minutes enabling passengers to get out and view the construction work taking place there. They saw men constructing a line from Stone to the Trent Valley Railway’s mainline at Colwich that would provide a direct route for express trains running between Stoke and London. At the junction, where the Colwich line joined the Norton Bridge line, an Elizabethan style station, with corn and cheese warehouses, coal yards and cattle pens, was being built.
A bell rang and the passengers rejoined the train. The train left Stone and arrived at Norton Bridge just half an hour after it had left Fenton. Passengers got off and caught a mail train that took them to Stafford which they reached before 9.00am.
Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust 2012